Well, if you’re going to war, obviously troops are going to a theater and to a country and in the immediate aftermath of such a conflict, there would have to be a need for some presence until such time as you can put in place a better system. I mean, the United States has done this many times in the course of the last 50 or 60 years and we always try to get out as quickly as we can once we have reestablished peace, put in place a stable system, it is never our intention to go and stay in a place and to impose our will by the presence of our military forces.
–Secretary of State Colin Powell, interviewed on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” October 11, 2002.
Those guiding Bush/neo-conservative foreign policy intend to establish a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq. This little-noted aim, not “oil,” is the real “elephant” in the American voter’s living room. (The issue of appropriating Iraqi oil and oil revenue will be dealt with after the “coalition” take-over to set up bases on Iraqi soil.) Secretary Powell’s disingenuous comment on NPR (above) failed to note that in the past 50 or 60 years the United States still maintains a military presence in many countries long past “the immediate aftermath” of conflict. The currently-infamous U.S. installation at Guantanamo Bay dates back to 1901. A hundred-year stay in Iraq would not be anything new. How many bases? At what financial cost? At what continued (possibly never-ending) cost to human beings wounded or killed?
On April 20, 2003, The New York Times ran a story citing unnamed sources indicating the U.S. military was planning as many as four permanent military bases in Iraq. The next day, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dismissed the story as “inaccurate and unfortunate.” But what did Rumsfeld mean by “inaccurate”? Perhaps it was “unfortunate” for the administration when the basing plan was leaked to the press. Perhaps the plan was deliberately leaked by the Pentagon or White House. The national media dropped the story after Rumsfeld’s disclaimer.
Was the story “inaccurate” because instead of four military installations, the government has plans for six bases, as reported on November 19, 2003, by the Jordanian daily al-Arab al-Yawm:
The sources revealed the names of these bases and the planned positions for permanent deployment. They are:
. Al-Habbaniyah Airbase [already an RAF airbase for much of the last century] near the city of al-Fallujah, 65km west of Baghdad;
. Ash-Sha’biyah Airbase in Basra, 600km south of Baghdad;
. ‘Ali ibn Abi Taleb Airbase on the outskirts of the city of an-Nasiriyah, 400km south of Baghdad;
. al-Walid Airbase about 330km north west of Baghdad;
. al-Ghazlani Camp in the city of Mosul, 400km north of Baghdad;
. A permanent deployment of forces in the east of Iraq in what is known as the Hamrin mountain range that extends from Diyala Provice, 60km east of Baghdad, and borders on Iran and extends to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 260km north of Baghdad.
The sources explained the choice of these locations for permanent Anglo-American deployment by saying that they cover most of the territory of Iraq, and are linked to the Iraqi borders in all four directions, giving them strategic importance in defining the future course of the “new” Iraq. The choice of these locations is also linked to the aim of deterring neighbors of Iraq who might attempt to threaten Iraqi territory in the future.
Given the present administration’s abysmal track record for truth-telling, we may never know substantive information about this crucial issue until the bases are operational.
How long U.S. troops will remain in Iraq? Here are a few selected responses to that vital question.
1. On November 20, 1997, long before the current occupation by “coalition” forces, Clinton’s Defense Secretary William Cohen said that U.S. forces then in the region of Iraq “will stay as long as it’s necessary for them to be there.”
2. Cohen’s prophetic words have been repeatedly echoed by the Bush Administration, as when Secretary of State Powell said, “How long will we stay in Iraq? We will stay as long as it takes to turn full responsibility for governing Iraq over to a capable and democratically elected Iraqi administration.” (September 19, 2003)
3. President George W. Bush: (a) The Washington Post reported, “Before the war, Bush spoke optimistically about a clean transformation of Iraq, arguing that U.S. troops would not remain in the region “for one day longer than is necessary.” (b) Bush statement: “These groups believe they have found an opportunity to harm America, to shake our resolve in the war on terror and to cause us to leave Iraq before freedom is fully established. They are wrong and they will not succeed.” (July 1, 2003) (c) Bush statement: “We will stay as long as necessary to make sure that the Iraqi people have a government of, by and for the Iraqi people. And then we’ll come home.” (May 13, 2003) (d) Bush statement: “I assured [Iraqi women leaders] that America wasn’t leaving. When they hear me say we’re staying, that means we’re staying. (November 17, 2003)
4. On July 1, 2003, Presidential Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the United States “does not have any intention of staying in Iraq forever, but the president has said that we will stay as long as is necessary to get the job done and done well and done right, and not a day longer. And that’s what you’re seeing.”
5. On November 17, 2003, reporter Russell Mokhiber asked Fleischer’s replacement Scott McClellan the following: “Ambassador (Paul) Bremer said yesterday that U.S. troops will remain on the ground in Iraq even after the government is elected there. What if the (Iraqi) government asks the U.S. to get out. Would we get out?” McClellan ducked the question with this baroque response: “The Iraqi people have indicated in a number of different ways, if you look at polls, if you look at the governing council representatives, that they want us to say until the job is finished. And part of that job is making sure that we have a secure environment for the Iraqi people. And we still have important obligations that will need to be fulfilled. That includes the security side, that includes the reconstruction side. There are an enormous amount of resources going into Iraq from the international community. All of us have a stake in seeing a peaceful and free Iraq come about. It is important to transforming the Middle East. The Middle East has been a volatile region. It has been a breeding ground for terrorism, and bringing about a free, peaceful, democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will help transform that region for the better, bring about a safer and better world.”
6. How long in Iraq? General Richard Myers said: “It’s going to depend on events over the next couple of years. It’s to be determined.” (December 16, 2003)
7. “The United States is committed to stay as long as is necessary in Iraq, but not one day more.” — Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs, February 11, 2003.
8. Reporting for the Voice of America, Meredith Buel noted, “While analysts disagree over how long American soldiers should stay in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says they will be there as long as is necessary, but not one day longer. U.S. defense officials have been careful not to estimate the length of the occupation, just as they refused to estimate how long the war itself would last.” (June 13, 2003)
9. During a September 30, 2003, visit to Washington, D.C., Ahmad Chalabi, interim head of Iraq’s governing council, told reporters he would like the United States to establish permanent military bases in Iraq.
10. Even some Democrats see a long-lived U.S. presence in Iraq. In July 2003, Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, told Fox News the U.S. would be Iraq for a decade. “[I]t’s unrealistic to think we’re not going to be required to be there, in transition, even once there’s an Iraqi government, for a long time with a lot of forces.” Presidential candidate Howard Dean, who opposed the war from the beginning, told Washington Post columnist Fred Hiatt, “Now that we’re there, we’re stuck . . . bringing democracy to Iraq is not a two-year proposition.” (August 25, 2003)
11. On her return from a Thanksgiving trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, Senator Hillary Clinton responded to the “how long” question on ABC’s This Week with a reminder that the U.S. still has bases in Korea and elsewhere, long after wars have ended.
12. June 2003: British Prime Minister Tony Blair was questioned by members of Parliament. How long would British troops remain in Iraq? Was there an exit strategy? Blair artfully avoided answering such questions. He did say, “Even at this moment in time, it is particularly important that we make sure that we redouble our efforts to bring stability to that country because that is the surest way of bringing stability to the rest of the world,” a statement of incredibly overblown exaggeration. (Emphasis added.) Will stabilizing Iraq really bring “stability to the rest of the world”? Blair’s claim must join the other hyped misstatements of fact such as Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and nuclear capabilities. (In John le Carre’s latest novel “Absolute Friends,” a character says “I used to believe that I was right to lie for my country, and now I don’t know what the truth is.”)
13. January 5, 2004: In London, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said British forces would likely remain in the country for years to come. He said he could not give an “exact timescale” for their withdrawal but added “it is not going to be months. … I can’t say whether it is going to be 2006, 2007.” (Associated Press) Political leaders “can’t say” when the foreign troops will leave Iraq. If they told the public of their actual plans, the public might strenuously object. In 2006 or 2007, we may expect to hear, “I can’t say whether it is going to be 2008, 2009, 2010.”
14. January 4, 2004: Defense experts Charles Knight and Marcus Corbin published a most important analysis deserving major national exposure. They wrote in part:
A four- or five-year occupation of Iraq by 65,000 regular and 35,000 reserve troops – a realistic possibility – will require a rotation base of 260,000 active troops . . . and 315,000 reserve troops . . . This illustration does not properly capture the full effect of our broader “war on terror” on our reservists. . . If another war begins, President Bush will still be able to mobilize plenty of military power. It is occupations that are the problem. If occupation of Iraq stretches into years and the “war on terrorism” widens even further, Army Reserve and National Guard units will be called to active service again and again – an activation rate far higher than the norm expected by our citizen soldiers, their families and their communities.
Although polls have shown the U.S. public generally supports the occupation of Iraq, it’s not clear that questions regarding a “permanent” presence have been asked of respondents. One thing for sure: if Bush Republicans (and some Democrats) prevail, the children of our grandchildren will be serving in Iraq long after the current crop of politicians and corporate leaders with their fingers in the power-and-money pie have left the scene. Is this what Americans really want?
Speaking for the Bush Administration, Scott McClellan’s words above regarding a desire to transform the Middle East deserve much more attention than they’ve been given. Far too little attention was paid when NPR’s Robert Siegel elicited from Colin Powell the incredible statement that begins this article. The United States currently has bases in such nations as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Belgium, Bulgaria (coming soon), Cuba, Diego Garcia, Djibouti, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Guam, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Qatar, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan. Contrary to Secretary Powell’s laughable assertion, once a U.S. base is based, it becomes quite permanent. Rather than try to “get [U.S. bases] out,” we spend enormous effort maintaining the majority of our military installations. And this brings us to the problem of Iraq.
The Bush Administration may intend to move most of its Middle East installations to Iraq from the countries where they’re now situated. The hope is for U.S. control of Iraq’s new-found “democracy” in service of a grandiose mission: “transforming the Middle East.” Eventually Iraqi oil revenues will be appropriated to pick up some of the ever-expanding tab. One might sensibly ask, “Why not transform the United States instead?”-except that the mad dash to occupy Iraq (and by extension, tomorrow, the world) is already remaking this nation in the crippling neo-conservative image.
Should this greedy nightmare scenario of a permanent U.S. bootprint in Iraq unreel, many more “coalition” personnel will be wounded or killed, as will uncounted numbers of Iraqis and others. The fortunate insider corporations currently privatizing our military operations will reap financial benefits far beyond those now under scrutiny. It is scandalous that politicians who oppose the permanent occupation of Iraq have not brought this situation front and center to provoke a national debate.
Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is one of the few willing to broach the subject. His words are worth noting:
“If this occupation is allowed to continue for years, as the President and other Democratic presidential candidates want, we are bound to see a more formal draft. And with three of the Democratic presidential candidates favoring mandatory draft registration for 18-year-old women, even families without sons could be in for a huge surprise.” (12/31/03)
The United States intends to stay in Iraq. Recall the words of President Bush: “When they hear me say we’re staying, that means we’re staying.” Troops will not be coming home. It is time to ask members of Congress about this plot to further deplete both the national treasury and the ranks of dedicated human beings willing to serve their country. And what of the devoted aid workers sans multi-billion dollar contracts? What about the people of Iraq? How many will die to foster this experimental takeover-makeover? We can’t expect straight answers from proponents of the plan. If the Ozymandias-driven neo-conservative dream of world domination is to be halted by the upcoming election, this is the issue that could make a difference.
DOUG GIEBEL lives in Big Sandy, Montana. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org